Child Support in Florida Divorce

Child support is one of the most understood and misunderstood issues in a Florida divorce. Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it makes no sense at all.

The State of Florida has an interest in making sure the children residing within its borders are cared for, that there is a roof over their heads, food on the table, good schools and that their health and dental needs are provided for. Most parents understand their obligation to their children. When parents with children get divorced they have to go through a Florida circuit courthouse and Florida circuit judge. The judge’s job is to make sure the divorce issues have been resolved and that includes with respect to the children.

Child “Custody” and “Visitation” in Florida are Dead – Really????

When children are involved in a Florida divorce the court will want to see a parenting plan that covers parenting, i.e. who will make the decisions regarding how the children will be raised, where will the children be sleeping and spending their time as they grow up, who is taking care of their health needs and what are the financial responsibilities of each parent. The ultimate finding the judge will have to make is that the parenting plan is in the best interests of the children. That is the legal standard.

By recent amendment to Chapter 61, Florida Statutes, “Custody” and “Visitation” have been abolished. Neither parent is designated the “primary” or “secondary” residential parent any longer. No longer does the “non-custodial” parent get “visitation” with his/her children. Now we have a Parenting Plan. Shared parental responsibility remains the standard, meaning both parents are involved in the important decisions regarding their children. However, now one parent is the parent who has the children the majority of the time (get it, no longer the “custodial parent”) and the other parent is part of the parenting plan and his/her shared time with the children is established by the plan. Honestly, the end result is the same. The children will be sleeping most nights with parent A and the rest of the time with parent B. Same as before.

Calculating Child Support in Florida

Child support is a function of a statutory formula created by the Florida legislature. It is old and outdated. It may or may not bear any relationship to what it actually costs to raise a child in today’s world. Most likely it does not. Yet it’s what we have to work with and the law requires at a minimum that the guidelines be adhered to. Downward deviations may be requested for good cause and allowed after a motion and determination of the issue by the court is made.

In order to be able to determine child support you need the following information:

  1. The number of minor children and their birthdates;
  2. Net monthly incomes of the parents;
  3. Monthly cost of health insurance for the children and how much each parent is paying towards the expense;
  4. Monthly uninsured health expense for the children and which parent is paying;
  5. Day care expense and who is paying. This item must be necessary on account of employment, job search or education calculated to result in employment or to enhance income or current employment.

That data is input into the statutory formula and a dollar amount for child support number determined. The parties are required to file a child support guidelines worksheet with the court showing the calculation.

Delineation of Child Support

Effective October 1, 2010 every child support order and income deduction order must now provide (1) for child support to end on a child’s 18th birthday unless he/she is still in high school, between the ages of 18 and 19, performing in good faith with a reasonable expectation of graduation before the age of 19, in which case child support will go until graduation, (2) a schedule, based on the record existing at the time of the order, stating the amount of the monthly child support obligation for all the minor children at the time of the order and the amount of child support that will be owed for any remaining children after one of more of the children are no longer entitled to receive child support, and (3) the month, day and year that the reduction or termination of child support becomes effective.

This new legislative mandate is supposed to curtail the modification petitions filed when the oldest child comes off of child support, yet the payment remains the same.

Substantial Timesharing

As of January 1, 2011 a sea change in child support law in Florida will take place. As of now, the law allows for a substantial timesharing discount, usually to the dad, when he has the children 40% of the time, meaning 146 overnights/year. If he hits that threshold, he would be entitled to a deep discount on his child support obligation. That changes on January 1, 2011. The substantial timesharing threshold is coming down to 20% of the time, or 73 overnights/year for a discount to kick in. This change will have three major effects:

  1. Fathers won’t hold out for 40% timesharing, which bogs down the system and increases the cost of litigation;
  2. Fathers likely will get a discount based on standard local timesharing plans (every other weekend, one night/week, rotating holidays and summer vacations equaling 73 nights/year or more) and mothers, who are struggling as is, will get less; and
  3. Many fathers will be entitled to immediate reduction in their child support payments and can file supplemental petitions for modification of their final judgments. Again, the end result will be less money for the mothers, who are having a hard enough time making ends meet as is.

Supplemental Petition to Modify – Reduce Child Support

The child support guideline amount presumptively establishes the correct amount for child support. The guidelines may also provide the basis for proving a substantial change in circumstances upon which a modification of an existing order may be granted. In that case, the difference between the existing monthly obligation and the amount provided for under the guidelines shall be at least 15 percent or $50, whichever amount is greater, before the court may find that the guidelines provide a substantial change in circumstances.

If you have an existing child support order that has not been delineated you may be entitled to child support relief.

If you have 73 overnights/year with your children but did not have 146 overnights at the time your final judgment was entered, you may be entitled to a substantial reduction in your child support obligation.

Over time, the monthly savings may prove substantial.

Miller Law Associates, a Florida divorce and family law firm, handles child support modifications. Visit them at www.DivorceYes.com.

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